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Houston Texans

Harris' stream of consciousness: Texans vs. Cowboys

Just flowing stream of consciousness style while watching the game again. And, yes, it was as painful as it was watching it from the sideline the first time. Either way, plenty to take out of it, both good and bad.

-- First play, CJ Fiedorowicz moved early, forced to start the game 1st and 15, then he got beat on the first run play. It was an up and down day for the rookie from Iowa. He had a couple of strong point of attack blocks on big runs. More on that later.

The Texans face off against the in-state rival Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.

-- On third down during that drive, Cowboys S J.J Wilcox came clean from the edge. Dallas DC Rod Marinelli dialed up one of the most unique zone dogs I've seen. The entire right side of the defensive front dropped off into coverage, while four players rushed on the left side. Wilcox was unaccounted for and forced a bad throw and a three and out.

-- First defensive play, JJ Watt swam past Ronald Leary like he wasn't even there for a stop for no gain. 99 is so quick off the ball, more on that later.

-- Defense started three and out, like Dallas' defense did. Great way to start and was sort of a precursor for things throughout the day.

-- Second drive, Texans missed the blitzer on 2nd and two. Tough part was that Andre Johnson was about to break free from the grips of the DE that dropped into coverage. Fitzpatrick just didn't have enough time as the blitzer came clean on the rush. On third down, Fitzpatrick then found Dre across the middle with one of his best throws all day.

-- Unfortunately, on the next throw, Fitzpatrick threw his only interception of the day. The debate raged during the breaks of the broadcast. Did Arian misread the coverage? Did Fitzpatrick read it properly? We came to the consensus that Arian needed to run the hitch there but I can see it either way given the coverage (cover two).

-- Safety DJ Swearinger made a couple of strong tackles filling in the alley. He popped DeMarco Murray after a five yard run, solo - just bam. Stoned him. Later, he submarined Murray for a tackle for a loss that set up a 2nd and long in Texans territory.

-- DT Ryan "Big Grease" Pickett makes a huge difference, figuratively and literally, on this defense. He swallows blocker(s) at the point of attack. Romeo Crennel even used "Big Grease" and Jerrell Powe together up front in some even front looks.

-- I've said this a ton of times, I like, really like, Brian Cushing going forward. He got his first sack of the year, shedding Murray's block and tackling Romo for a big loss.

-- The one thing you'll notice about this team is it will not give up on a play, on a game, on a drive, whatever. That was evident with safety Kendrick Lewis' forced fumble. ILB Justin Tuggle had Murray wrapped up and as the Cowboys' running back attempted to spin out, Lewis put his helmet right on the ball and voila, another turnover.

-- After the turnover, Foster ran for 14 yards. Isolation play that Foster took through the back door. As I mentioned a few times, Foster is a maestro allowing the defenses to over-pursue so he can cut back across the grain. He did that on that run. On a power play later in the drive, RG Brandon Brooks hammered a linebacker and one block was needed to spring Foster for a big gain. Dallas S Barry Church slipped that block and wrapped up Foster for a one yard gain. It should've been 20 in a snaps fingers.

-- In the 2nd quarter, on 3rd and five, the Texans showed six man pressure, but rushed only two, dropping nine into coverage. Romo still found Murray, an underrated receiver and weapon out of the backfield. I've never seen that look before from the Texans but each week we see something new and creative from DC Romeo Crennel.

-- Later in the drive, JJ Watt came clean on a rush to the quarterback. I remembered seeing the play live and saw RB Joe Randle blocking Watt. I couldn't for the life of me imagine that the Cowboys would game plan to block Watt with a RB. After seeing the game tape, I was right, the Cowboys aren't that arrogant. It was just that Watt beat LT Tyron Smith so badly and quickly that I didn't even see him attempt to block him. Yet, and this is a theme, Romo got drilled by Watt and Mercilus and still completed a sidearmed throw to Jason Witten. I have no idea how, but Romo's done that for years.

-- After the punt, the Texans ran a zone play to the left and C Chris Myers put DT Nick Hayden on skates. Wow. Myers ran him seven yards downfield, really impressive effort.

-- On the third down and long, the Cowboys went into one of the most unique looks I've seen. Three down linemen and six underneath defenders with two deep. But, the six were situated 12 yards downfield, right at the first down marker. The Texans ran a power play and, as expected, it popped wide open. As the second level players flew to the ball, LB Justin Durant made a solid one-on-one tackle on Foster. Another look at that play showed that had the Texans pulling lineman just gotten a hat on Durant, Foster could potentially have picked up that first down. Sometimes it's that close.

-- The drive, in my opinion, that drew the ire of Bill O'Brien more than any other was the three play drive after Dwayne Harris fumbled a punt back to the Texans in Cowboys territory. That drive went like this:
a. 1st down - Texans wanted to go deep, but the Cowboy DE (can't recall who it was maybe Tyrone Crawford?) won so quickly in his pass rush that Fitzpatrick was forced to step up and had no space or time to step into his throw downfield - INC.
b. 2nd down - tunnel screen to Andre Johnson - there's a TON of room, but safety J.J Wilcox submarined the block of Duane Brown and made the tackle for a short gain. Trust me, that was a house call.
c. 3rd down - dropped crossing route.
d. 4th down - punt.

The Cowboys then took the ensuing drive down for points to end the half. Say the Texans just put up three, take a few more minutes off the clock and leave little for time for Dallas at the end of the half - it's, at worst, 3-0 Texans, instead of 3-0 Dallas, who knows? But, that drive had possibilities but the execution was not top notch on that drive.

-- Of course, Watt was blatantly held on the first play of the ensuing, and final, Dallas drive of the half (its scoring drive) and it wasn't called. Romo threw for a first down and moved the chains. Refs missed one pretty badly.

-- To start the third quarter, RAC dialed up pressure on third and five that Romo and the

Cowboys OL couldn't handle. Following the punt, the Texans offense finally went to work. The ensuing drive went like this…
a. Power right - five yards
b. Zone right - two yards (lazy backside blocking)
c. (Third and three) - Fitz to Hop on the in route for a first down - well blocked, well executed
d. Draw play - five yards - just missed popping that for a long run
e. Zone left - caught Cowboys in a slant the other way, Foster BIG gain.
f. Zone left - Foster TD.

That's the way BOB would draw up a drive - run it, run it and pound it right the you know what at them. No shooting themselves in the foot. No penalties. Good, solid execution. A statement made. A quick note as Foster ran off the field after the TD, he walked toward the sideline and motioned at the Texans fans directly behind me "THIS IS OUR HOUSE". It certainly was NRG North.

-- But, the Cowboys answered. Romo threw some incredible passes throughout the day, but the throw he made on 2nd and 10 to Jason Witten down the seam was his prettiest and perhaps most timely. Texans DB Elbert Mack was stride for stride with Witten but Romo dropped into the bucket and the only place/spot anyone could've caught it.

-- Romo's throw to Terrance Williams, though, was just ridiculous. How he saw/felt Watt off the edge, I have no idea. But, he somehow did. Watt was so quick off the ball; he timed up the silent count (forced on the Cowboys by the raucous "home" crowd) and beat Smith again. But, Romo "houdini-ed" his way out of it, found Williams downfield a fraction of a second before Danieal Manning could disrupt the throw. What can you say? Tip 'o the cap to Romo, as much as it pains me to do.

-- After the touchdown, the Texans went back to the Foster well and he broke off another chunk of yardage. But...flag for holding. Bring it back. The Texans were ready to answer one heavyweight punch with their own but the flag eliminated that opportunity.

-- But, the Texans held on that drive because of a smart and athletic play by Lewis down deep

in Texans territory. On 2nd and ten from the 20, Romo came to the line and signaled to Dez Bryant in particular with a triangle hand signal. The one thing I noticed, standing right nearby, was Bryant changed his footwork. He had his outside foot up then switched to put his outside foot ahead. I thought that was an indication of an inside route, a slant, dig or post. Lewis noted it too and took a chance that it might be the right time to take a calculated risk. He was right, jumped in front of the throw to Bryant on the post and picked it off, his first of the year.

-- The punt return, ugh. A great punt by Shane Lechler, but the Texans were a little late in coverage because the Cowboys had an all-out punt block. Harris caught the punt, a couple of Texans lost lane integrity and Harris sprinted down the sideline for a 38 yard gain. Punt cover team did a nice job throughout the game, other than that one key return.

-- Romo redeemed himself, so to speak, for giving away points on that drive with an automatic to Dez on the backshoulder fade for a TD. I said prior to the game that if the Texans went one-on-one with no help on Dez, it was a nearly 100% lock that it was going to Dez. On first and goal from the two, Romo eschewed a called run and hit Bryant for a TD. Years of working together and football IQ put Romo and Bryant in position to make that play.

-- The next 9 minutes belonged to the Texans with one exception, so to speak. Luckily, that exception didn't come back to haunt them, more on that in a minute. The offense put 12 plays together that led to a field goal to cut it to a one score game.
a. Arian jocked a Cowboys safety...again...for a big run
b. Fitzpatrick evaded pressure to throwback to DeAndre Hopkins for a big gain
c. 4th and three, Fitz to Arian for 14 yards and a first down.

The field goal cut it to seven and, most importantly, one score. The defense came up huge on the next three and out. But, on second down after a stop and a delay of game penalty, I saw DJ Swearinger gesturing wildly on the field. The ball was snapped and Harris was stopped after a six yard gain to bring up a key third down just prior to the two minute warning. After the play, I noticed both Swearinger and Joseph signaling with both hands to the sideline, then Manning ran on the field. They stopped Harris with only ten men on the field on second down.

-- On the third down snap, Lewis blitzed the B gap and came wide open to Romo. He did something I'd never seen before. As he neared Romo, he threw his hands up in the air to distract Romo and then continued on to hit him as he delivered the ball. I don't know if that rattled Romo but it helped draw an intentional grounding flag on Romo that improved the field position on the final drive of regulation.

-- After Keshawn Martin's punt return, O'Brien called a tunnel screen to Andre Johnson and it was blocked beautifully. The offensive staff made an adjustment on that play such that Garrett Graham made the block on the edge instead of Duane Brown. That allowed Brown to get to the linebacker, instead of the DB, and Graham could dance with the DB better than Duane could in space. Dre then sprinted up the field for a big gain.

-- What will stay with me more than anything else when Arian scored the tying touchdown was seeing Andre's emotion in the end zone. He was the receiver to the far left, closest to the sideline I was positioned. When Foster scored, he stood there motioning to the crowd, screaming, still understated of course, but charged up like I've rarely seen him. That's how much that one meant to him and the others in deep steel blue.

Overtime? Ah, didn't happen...I couldn't watch it again, time to move on to the Colts.

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